SEC: Missouri Tigers

What we learned in the SEC: Week 13

November, 22, 2014
Nov 22
It was a relatively weak slate for the SEC, but we still learned a few things about the league as we head into the final week of the regular season:

    [+] EnlargeTrey Flowers
    Beth Hall/USA TODAY SportsTrey Flowers and the Arkansas defense have been downright nasty the past two weeks, when they shut out LSU and Ole Miss, respectively.
  • If you thought Arkansas was improving ...: Just wait until next season with the Razorbacks. Bret Bielema's team went from one of the nation's most snake-bitten teams to topping LSU and Ole Miss -- both ranked at the time -- by a combined score of 47-0 in back-to-back weeks, including today's 30-0 win over the Rebels. This team isn't flashy, by any means, but that tough, beat-you-down effort is getting better and better for the Hogs. They'll be even better next season, with nine potential starters coming back on offense, including running backs Alex Collins and Jonathan Williams. The defense will lose seniors Trey Flowers and Tevin Mitchel, but that younger group of defenders has grown up as the season has gone on and played out of its mind when its back was against its own end zone. That's a great way to tell how much a defense has matured. Bo Wallace helped it out, but forcing two turnovers in the end zone was crucial Saturday. Arkansas' quarterback situation has to improve, but this team is going to have a ton of momentum going into next season, as it is headed to a bowl game this season.
  • Florida's football team is still playing for Muschamp: Yes, it was only Eastern Kentucky, but it was a perfect opportunity for a Florida team led by a lame duck head coach to simply go through the motions. But the Gators were all business and pounded the Colonels 52-3 on Senior Day in Will Muschamp's final game in the Swamp as Florida's head coach. It was a feel-good win for a program that is now bowl-eligible and will be under new management next season. The Gators rolled up 430 yards of offense and watched embattled quarterback Jeff Driskel throw for 164 yards and three touchdowns in relief of an injured Treon Harris. The playbook opened up when Driskel got in, and the Gators watched receivers Demarcus Robinson and Quinton Dunbar combine for seven catches for 244 yards and four touchdowns. This team might not beat Florida State next week, but it won't lie down with its coach out the door.
  • Bo Wallace needs Laquon Treadwell: With his safety net done for the season, Ole Miss' quarterback just doesn't have enough help right now. Yes, Wallace made some bad decisions in the 30-0 loss to Arkansas, but with no consistent running game to rely on, Ole Miss' offense couldn't get anything going without a game-changer at wide receiver. Wallace forced throws at critical moments, but some of that had to do with his not having Treadwell to go to when things got hairy. Wallace threw for 235 yards, but when the Rebels' offense needed a clutch play from its quarterback, he couldn't deliver. Treadwell had always been there to provide the big play, but without him, the Rebels don't have a major playmaker to keep drives alive. It's obvious the lack of a power running game is keeping this offense from evolving with Treadwell out. You better believe Mississippi State will have no problem dialing up the pressure as much as possible next week against Ole Miss.
  • Alabama and Mississippi take center stage: The final weekend of the regular season will bring all SEC eyes on the states of Alabama and Mississippi. Alabama and Mississippi State cruised on Saturday, which means the SEC West champion will officially be decided next weekend. Alabama hosts Auburn, while Mississippi State travels to Ole Miss. The Bulldogs play earlier in the day, so they will be on pins and needles on their way back to Starkville while awaiting the outcome in Tuscaloosa. For the Bulldogs to make it to Atlanta, they need a win and an Alabama loss. Alabama just needs to win. But there's more to next weekend than just the SEC West. If both Alabama and Mississippi State win, the playoff argument for Mississippi State will increase. The Bulldogs' lone loss would be to the No. 1 team in the country, so it's going to be tough to keep the Bulldogs out of the College Football Playoff, regardless of what happens in Atlanta. If Alabama and Mississippi State head into the final day of the College Football Playoff rankings with one loss, could we see two SEC teams in the playoff?
  • Missouri is one win from an improbable East championship ... again: Here the Missouri Tigers are, inconsistent offense and all. But you know what? It doesn't matter. The defense has been outstanding in SEC play, and though the offense is light-years behind last year's, this team can grind out wins. It is mentally tough and find ways to make plays at clutch times. You might not like how Missouri wins, but the Tigers have taken care of business after embarrassing home losses to Indiana and Georgia. Going undefeated on the road helps tremendously. With the 29-21 win over Tennessee, the Tigers head home to play a red-hot Arkansas team. With a win, Missouri, which is in its third year in the SEC, will be back in the SEC title game in Atlanta. Hats off to coach Gary Pinkel, who has done a tremendous job this season. How do you think those Georgia players, coaches and fans feel? You beat Mizzou by 34 on the road, but because of your loss to South Carolina, the fate of your SEC East hopes rest on Arkansas when at Mizzou. That has to hurt.

Mizzou looks to continue road success

November, 21, 2014
Nov 21
After Missouri put the finishing touches on yet another SEC road victory last week, it seemed fitting to note the Tigers’ continued success away from home. The Tigers haven’t lost a road game since 2012.

In the moments after the Tigers’ most recent road triumph, a 34-27 win at Texas A&M on Saturday, a reporter asked Pinkel about Missouri’s road winning streak, while acknowledging that he was aware Pinkel isn’t fond of discussing streaks.

Pinkel reinforced that sentiment with a deft deflection of the question by providing a bland answer.

[+] EnlargeMarcus Murphy
Troy Taormina/USA TODAY SportsMarcus Murphy and Missouri have been lights out on the road, winning their last seven SEC games and last nine overall away from home.
"I thought today was a really good victory, and I think we play on the road next week too, and we're going to do everything we can to focus on playing our best game," Pinkel said. "That's what we're going to focus on."

While Pinkel might not want to talk about it, Missouri made it worth talking about. The Tigers have nine consecutive road wins and seven of those have been in SEC play. When the Tigers travel to Neyland Stadium to meet Tennessee on Saturday, they’ll aim for their 10th consecutive road win and eighth straight in SEC play.

The last time Missouri lost a road game was Nov. 24, 2012.

“We don't ever really talk about it,” Pinkel said Wednesday. “The whole key for anybody is being able to focus, no matter where you play, whether you're playing in the ‘Zou here in Columbia or you're playing at South Carolina or wherever you're playing. The whole key is ‘Can you focus on playing your best regardless of the environment and circumstances?’ We don't prepare any differently on the road than we do if we're home.”

The consistent preparation seems to factor into the success. Players echoed Pinkel’s sentiment about not changing preparation.

"We keep everything the same,” running back Russell Hansbrough said. “We just worry about ourselves.”

The Tigers also try to keep the focus on themselves rather than their opponents.

“Coach Pinkel is always saying 'It's not about them, it's about us,'” defensive end Markus Golden said. “Everybody in here takes pride in knowing that it's about us. No matter where we play we know it's about us and we're going to play the Mizzou way. It's been successful over the years.”

Last week, though Texas A&M drew an announced crowd of 104,756 at Kyle Field, the Tigers didn’t allow it to faze them. When they face Tennessee, a similar-sized crowd awaits them -- Neyland can hold 102,455, and the Volunteers have drawn capacity crowds for four of their six home games so far this season.

“It comes down to worrying about us,” quarterback Maty Mauk said. “Don't worry about the 105,000 people. They're not going to do anything, they're just going to be loud. We practice with that [sound].”

Pinkel said he doesn’t have a “magic formula” or key to the success because if he did, he would have done it his entire career. Bottom line, the Tigers get it done on the road and, they’re hoping to continue their streak on Saturday.

“[The key is] just our ferocity,” defensive end Shane Ray said. “Coming into enemy territory and understanding that our backs are against the wall and we don't have any other choice but to fight.”

SEC viewer's guide: Week 13

November, 21, 2014
Nov 21
Saturday feels a little like the calm before the storm in the SEC. There are eight games on the docket, including a couple of intriguing matchups, and yet everybody is already talking about the rivalry games next week. Let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Here’s a preview of this Saturday’s slate. All times ET.

Noon Eastern Kentucky at Florida, SEC Network: It might be a bit strange to see Will Muschamp on the sideline Saturday considering he won’t be back at Florida next season, but he’s staying on to coach the team’s last two regular-season games. How will the players respond to a coach who’s on his way out? Based on Dante Fowler Jr.'s tweet this week, I'd expect them to come out and play hard for their coach. Also, the Gators become bowl eligible with a win.

South Alabama at South Carolina, ESPN3: Raise your hand if you had South Alabama becoming bowl eligible before South Carolina this season. If your hand is raised, you’re lying. Credit the job Joey Jones has done in his sixth season with the Jaguars, but don’t expect an upset on Saturday. The Gamecocks bounced back from that excruciating overtime loss to Tennessee with a solid, come-from-behind win in the Swamp last weekend.

Charleston Southern at No. 10 Georgia, SEC Network: If there was ever a week to give Nick Chubb a break, this would be it. With Todd Gurley out for the season, Chubb is once again the man in Georgia’s backfield, but fellow freshman Sony Michel is expected to return Saturday, and both he and Brendan Douglas should see plenty of carries. All three backs could be in for a big day against the Buccaneers.

[+] EnlargeBo Wallace
Troy Taormina/USA TODAY SportsBo Wallace and Ole Miss will have a tough matchup Saturday against an Arkansas defense fresh off a shutout win over LSU.
3:30 p.m. No. 8 Ole Miss at Arkansas, CBS: After last weekend, Ole Miss still has a chance to win the SEC West. Auburn knocking off Alabama isn’t likely, but crazier things have happened. First, though, the Rebels have to take care of business Saturday against an Arkansas team that is dangerous at home and confident after winning its first conference game in over two years. The Razorbacks allowed a total of 31 points to Alabama, Mississippi State and LSU this season. That doesn’t bode well for Bo Wallace, who will be without top target Laquon Treadwell. With rain in the forecast, points might be hard to come by in this one.

4 p.m. Western Carolina at No. 1 Alabama, SEC Network: The Alabama basketball team had trouble with the Catamounts earlier this week, but I don’t expect much of a struggle for the football team on Saturday. Western Carolina might be a “good little team,” as Nick Saban put it, but the Crimson Tide have dominated all three previous meetings and should do the same this season. If anything, it will give us another look at backup quarterback Jake Coker.

7 p.m. Samford at No. 14 Auburn, ESPNU: There are a lot of connections between these two in-state schools. Samford coach Pat Sullivan won a Heisman Trophy at Auburn back in 1971. Samford assistant coach Kodi Burns played and coached at Auburn. And Auburn offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee spent a year at Samford before joining Gus Malzahn at Arkansas State. The game itself won’t be very entertaining, but it should get the Tigers back on track.

7:30 p.m. No. 20 Missouri at Tennessee, ESPN: Missouri has to lose, right? There’s no way the Tigers can get back to Atlanta for the second straight season. Consider this -- Gary Pinkel’s team has won 12 of its past 14 conference games and has won nine straight road games, including seven straight in the SEC. Maybe it’s time we start taking this team seriously. The Tigers are going to have their hands full Saturday against a Tennessee team on the rise. The Volunteers have won back-to-back games with Joshua Dobbs under center, and a win over Missouri would make them bowl eligible for the first time since 2010.

Vanderbilt at No. 4 Mississippi State, SEC Network: Dan Mullen was a happy man Tuesday when the latest College Football Playoff rankings came out, as his Bulldogs were still among the four playoff teams despite losing to Alabama the week before. Now the question is: Can they stay in the top four and hold off teams such as TCU, Ohio State and Baylor? Mississippi State has two chances left to impress the committee, beginning with Saturday’s tilt against the Commodores. It’s important the Bulldogs not only win, but win big.

SEC morning links

November, 21, 2014
Nov 21
Arkansas' continued progress has been interesting to see this season and one area they showed significant progress in is third-down success. Last season the Razorbacks were 54th nationally in offensive third-down success rate (41.7 percent) but this season, they're 10th (49.3 percent). That's a huge improvement and it was evident in their 17-0 win over LSU when the Hogs were 10-of-17 against the Tigers on third down, a team that usually stops teams on third down (the Tigers are second in the SEC allowing only a 33.1 percent third-down conversion rate to opponents).

Nobody's happy with the defensive performances this season at South Carolina, but the same can be said at other places around the conference, or the country for that matter. The Gamecocks aren't alone. Texas A&M has seen its fair share of struggles that has its defensive coordinator under the microscope. Auburn has had a rough go lately too, though Gus Malzahn showed support for Ellis Johnson. Still, fans want results and they haven't been good for the Gamecocks, who are last in the league in scoring defense (32.7 points per game).

Tennessee quarterback Joshua Dobbs is the Volunteers' present and future at the position but his predecessor, Justin Worley celebrated his 22nd birthday on Thursday by sharing words with Tennessee fans in an open letter. Worley, whose senior season was cut short after he underwent surgery for a torn labrum earlier this month, shares plenty of candid words and vivid images of his time in Knoxville, which is pretty cool to see.

Around the SEC

Ray and Golden producing for Mizzou

November, 20, 2014
Nov 20
The tradition continues.

Missouri has a knack for producing elite pass rushers, and 2014 is no different. Shane Ray and Markus Golden picked up where their predecessors, Kony Ealy and Michael Sam, left off. The Tigers continue to attack opposing quarterbacks proficiently and get in opposing backfields frequently, with Ray and Golden leading the efforts this season.

Missouri ranks first in the SEC in sacks (34) and second in sack percentage (nine percent). This is the eighth time in the past 10 seasons Missouri will finish with 30 or more sacks as a team. A defensive line that has had six first-team all-conference selections since Gary Pinkel was hired in 2000 seems certain to add its seventh such member, with Ray putting together the kind of season he has.

Ray, a junior, already holds the school’s single-season record for sacks with 13 and has had five games of at least two sacks, the only FBS player this season with that distinction. He also has 18 tackles for loss.

Ray continues to produce even as opponents try to scheme for him weekly.

“Every week somebody throws something kind of different at me,” Ray said. “They might keep a fullback in or slide my way and do things to keep me away from the quarterback. But the best thing I can do is just continuing to play as hard as I can. When the plays present themselves, just make the play. Schemes are tough to combat sometimes but you just have to keep going.”

Golden, meanwhile, was bothered by a hamstring injury suffered in September that forced him to miss Missouri’s loss to Indiana but has played through the injury since. He showed no ill effects of the ailment last week, however, picking up nine tackles, two sacks and a forced fumble in the Tigers’ 34-27 win over Texas A&M, a night he spent matched up mostly against NFL draft prospect and preseason first-team All-SEC offensive tackle Cedric Ogbuehi.

“I'm back healthy,” Golden said afterward. “I'm 100 percent now, and I feel good. My hamstring feels good, and I was able to play the way I play all the time. I was myself [on Saturday].”

Despite the injury, Golden has compiled a respectable 53 tackles (one more than Ray), 11.5 tackles for loss and 6.5 sacks.

“They are great competitors, and they're great teammates, and they have a great friendship,” Pinkel said. “They're also competitive with one another. I think it's great.”

Pinkel said the extra focus Texas A&M gave Ray allowed Golden to excel.

“There's more attention sometimes, and they had a back over there to help a little bit with that offensive tackle with Shane and that allows Markus to be single-covered, so he got to do some of the things he did,” Pinkel said. “Just really, really good stuff.”

Golden said he has seen his fair share of double teams this season, too. Still, with 105 tackles, 19.5 sacks and 29.5 tackles for loss between them, the defensive end tandem has produced, and if Missouri is to win its final two games and return to the SEC championship game, those two will be a big reason for it.

"They scheme both of us: Some games I got double teamed; some games he got double teamed,” Golden said. “But it's no excuse. We don't make excuses around here. So whatever you do to us, we still have to get after the quarterback. That's our job, and we take pride in that.”

ESPN Jr. 300: What to know in the SEC 

November, 19, 2014
Nov 19
The SEC already has five commitments from players ranked in the top 25 of the ESPN Junior 300. That list includes Greg Little, the No. 1 player in the Class of 2016 and a Texas A&M commit. As a whole, the SEC has 27 commitments in the updated ESPN Junior 300. Here’s a closer look at the updated rankings.

SEC Freshman Tracker: Week 12

November, 19, 2014
Nov 19
Georgia’s Nick Chubb and Tennessee’s Derek Barnett were once again the stars of the weekend among the SEC’s true freshmen, with both rookies helping their teams earn blowout wins against conference competitors.

Let’s recap how the dynamic duo, and several other members of the SEC’s true freshman class, performed last Saturday:

DE Derek Barnett, Tennessee

What he did: Barnett notched seven tackles, four tackles for loss and a pair of sacks in the Volunteers’ blowout win against Kentucky.

What it means: He probably wasn’t getting enough attention before, but Barnett is getting it now. Barnett is tied for fifth nationally in tackles for loss with Missouri’s Shane Ray. They share the SEC lead with 18 apiece. Barnett is also third in the SEC with nine sacks.

RB Nick Chubb, Georgia

What he did: The return of -- and subsequent injury to -- Todd Gurley generated most of the attention in Saturday’s win against Auburn, but the Chubb Train kept rolling. Georgia’s star freshman ran 19 times for 144 yards and scored touchdowns of 9 and 11 yards. He also caught two passes for 48 yards.

What it means: Chubb has rushed for at least 140 yards in all five games since Gurley was initially suspended. During that time, he has been arguably the SEC’s most dynamic running back. He has run for 815 yards in the past five games and pushed his season total past the 1,000-yard mark (to 1,039) against Auburn.

RB Jalen Hurd, Tennessee

What he did: He hasn’t put up comparable numbers to Chubb, but Hurd has been impressive while running behind a much less experienced offensive line. He rushed 23 times for 118 yards and scored a 4-yard touchdown against Kentucky. He also made a reception for an 11-yard gain.

What it means: Through 10 games, Hurd has rushed for 716 yards and three touchdowns and ranks third on the team with 27 catches for 177 yards and two more scores. He is easily one of the Volunteers' most valuable offensive players and he’s only getting started.

QB Treon Harris, Florida

What he did: The South Carolina game ended terribly for Florida -- with the Gamecocks tying the score late and winning in overtime -- but Harris is a clear upgrade over Jeff Driskel at quarterback. He completed just 5 of 11 passes for 60 yards and a touchdown, but Harris also ran 20 times for 111 yards.

What it means: Starting for the third straight game, Harris suffered his first loss as a starter against the Gamecocks. Nonetheless, Florida has become a more competitive team with him under center. His 100-yard outing was the first by a Florida quarterback since Driskel in 2012.

S Armani Watts, Texas A&M

What he did: The freshman safety made four tackles and broke up two passes in a loss against Missouri, but his biggest play came late in the second quarter when he picked off a Maty Mauk pass at the Texas A&M 12-yard line and returned it 36 yards to the Aggies 48. A&M then drove to Mizzou’s 13 and kicked a field goal at the buzzer to go up 13-6 at halftime.

What it means: Other A&M freshmen like Myles Garrett, Speedy Noil and Kyle Allen have garnered more attention, but Watts has become a solid contributor on defense. He leads the team with three interceptions and 10 passes defended, is second with seven pass breakups and sixth with 52 tackles. It’s shaping up to be a strong rookie season for the young defensive back.

Other notables:

QB Kyle Allen, Texas A&M: Completed 24 of 35 passes for 237 yards, three touchdowns and one interception in a loss to Missouri.

LB Bryson Allen-Williams, South Carolina: Made three tackles, a career-high 2.5 tackles for loss and forced a fumble while combining for a sack in a win against Florida.

DB/KR Evan Berry, Tennessee: Vols legend Eric Berry’s younger brother made two tackles and returned three kickoffs for 91 yards (30.3 ypr) with a long of 39 against Kentucky.

WR Speedy Noil, Texas A&M: Caught three passes for 36 yards and totaled 95 yards on two kickoff returns in a loss to Missouri.

DB Malkom Parrish, Georgia: Made five tackles and forced a fourth-quarter fumble that outside linebacker Davin Bellamy recovered in a win against Auburn.

P J.K. Scott, Alabama: Punted seven times for 319 yards (45.6 ypp) in a win against Mississippi State with a long of 56.

RB Ish Witter, Missouri: Ran four times for 34 yards and rushed for a key third-quarter touchdown that gave the Tigers a 14-point lead in a 34-27 win over Texas A&M.

SEC morning links

November, 19, 2014
Nov 19
1. I had two big takeaways from the latest College Football Playoff rankings that came out Tuesday. First, the committee still likes the SEC. Alabama jumped all the way to No. 1, and despite losing to the Crimson Tide, Mississippi State remained a playoff team at No. 4. Will that last? We’ll see, but for now the Bulldogs have to be happy with where they’re at. The second thing is game control. What is it? It’s basically a calculation of a team’s average in-game win probability or a measure of how exactly a team went about winning (or losing) throughout the game. (Click here if still confused.) Why is it important? The new rankings showed that game control is important to the committee. It’s not just that you win, it’s how you win. For what it’s worth, the SEC has four of the top five teams ranked according to game control.

2. Missouri has a simple path to Atlanta. Win two games and the Tigers are back in the SEC championship game. And yet, everybody is writing them off just like they did last year. Sure, this Missouri team lost to Indiana and got blown out by Georgia, the team that’s currently on their heels for the East crown. But both of those games were at home. Surprisingly the road is where the Tigers have thrived. They have won nine straight road games, including seven straight against conference foes. No other SEC team has won more than three in a row. Not Georgia. Not the two Mississippi schools. Not even Alabama. Don’t be so quick to count out Missouri this Saturday just because the game is at Tennessee. Maybe it’s an advantage.

3. There has been talk this week of a possible Texas-Texas A&M matchup in the AdvoCare V100 Texas Bowl. However, it sounds like the Aggies, and maybe more importantly the SEC, want nothing to do with Texas. That got me thinking, though. What are some of the potential bowl matchups that we’d all love to see? And no, I’m not including the semifinal games. They’re going to be must-see TV regardless of who’s playing. These are lesser bowl games involving SEC teams that I’ve seen projected.
  • Auburn vs. Notre Dame in the Belk Bowl (The last two BCS runners-up)
  • Georgia vs. Wisconsin in the Citrus Bowl (Chubb vs. Gordon)
  • Mississippi State vs. TCU in the Fiesta Bowl (Who’s the best team left out?)
  • Missouri vs. Nebraska in the Outback Bowl (An old Big 12 rivalry)
Tweet of the day

SEC bowl projections: Week 12

November, 18, 2014
Nov 18
How important is earning the top overall seed in the College Football Playoff? For Alabama, it's very important. It would allow the Tide to play a virtual home game in the Sugar Bowl as opposed to going out West to possibly face Oregon in the Rose Bowl.

That's why Nick Saban and his team have to be ecstatic with their No. 1 ranking in the latest playoff rankings. As long as they win out and win the SEC title, they're headed to New Orleans for the first semifinal game.

Meanwhile, if everything plays out as it should -- and it never does -- the Tide's opponent in the Sugar Bowl would be none other than Mississippi State. That's right. The Bulldogs only dropped to No. 4 after Saturday's loss to Alabama, and that means they're still in good shape for the playoff if they can take care of business against Vanderbilt and Ole Miss.

The next two weeks should also be interesting for the rest of the conference as a number of teams are fighting for that sixth win and bowl eligibility. Both Florida and South Carolina should get there this Saturday as they play Eastern Kentucky and South Alabama, respectively. It won't be as easy, though, for teams like of Arkansas, Tennessee and Kentucky.

We predict a total of 12 SEC teams becoming bowl eligible by season's end.

College Football Playoff semifinal (Sugar Bowl): Alabama
College Football Playoff semifinal (Sugar Bowl): Mississippi State
Capital One Orange Bowl: Ole Miss
Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl: Georgia
Citrus Bowl: Auburn
TaxSlayer Bowl: Florida
Outback Bowl: Missouri
AdvoCare 100 Texas Bowl: Texas A&M
Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl: Tennessee
AutoZone Liberty Bowl: LSU
Belk Bowl: South Carolina
Birmingham Bowl: Arkansas
Missouri is unlikely to get the benefit of the doubt from the college football-viewing public anytime soon.

Unless the Tigers can hop into a DeLorean and erase their losses to Indiana and Georgia, those two games are the evidence that will be used against them in their ongoing attempt to earn some respect outside of Columbia, Missouri.

Their 2014 résumé doesn’t possess the type of eye-opening victories that would earn the kind of pats on the back that seem to be reserved for SEC West teams, so maybe they don’t need it. If the Tigers continue doing what they have the last four games -- winning -- for the next two, everything else will be rendered irrelevant because Missouri (8-2, 5-1 SEC) will be making a return trip to Atlanta for the SEC championship game as the SEC East representative.

[+] EnlargeMarcus Murphy
Troy Taormina/USA TODAY SportsMarcus Murphy and the Missouri offense finally got in gear against Texas A&M.
You can say they win ugly. You can say they suffered bad losses. But if the Tigers take care of business with wins over Tennessee and Arkansas in their final two games, they can say they’re SEC East champions -- again.

“I don't get caught up in that,” Missouri coach Gary Pinkel said of the outside chatter. “I know it probably bothers our players more than it bothers me. … If they can use that as motivation, that's fine.”

If Pinkel isn’t paying attention, some of his players are. Shane Ray, the SEC’s leading sacker, is aware of the perception of the Tigers since they joined the SEC in 2012.

“We don't care about people's opinions,” Ray said. “We don't care if you want us to win or think we should win. Each week we know we're going to go out there and play 60 minutes of football and you better have your mind right to compete against a team that's not going to quit. It's that simple.”

Texas A&M learned that first-hand on Saturday when the Tigers went into Kyle Field and defeated the Aggies 34-27 in front of an announced crowd of 104,756. This year’s Missouri team might not have the flash of 2013’s SEC East championship squad or skins on the wall that those Tigers did, beating five teams that were ranked in the top 25 at the time of meeting, but they are doing things worthy of attention.

The win Saturday over the Aggies was Missouri’s ninth consecutive road win. It was the Tigers’ seventh consecutive SEC road win. Since the start of last season, Missouri’s SEC record (12-2) is second in the conference only to Alabama (13-2). Sure, that can be qualified by noting the Tigers play in the SEC East but bottom line, they’re leading the division with two games left after being picked in the preseason to finish fourth in the East.

Missouri’s offense left much to be desired at times this season, but Saturday the Tigers delivered their best performance on that side of the ball. They posted season highs in rushing yards (337), total yards (587) and scored more offensive points (34) than they had in two months. Texas A&M’s struggling defense was certainly one factor, but the Tigers also had a full complement of healthy receivers -- which hadn't been the case in weeks -- and their offensive line executed well and finished blocks to open the holes for Russell Hansbrough (199 rushing yards, two touchdowns) and Co.

“We needed that; it’s obvious,” quarterback Maty Mauk said of the Tigers’ offensive explosion. “We should have been doing this. It comes down to executing, practicing well, practicing hard and playing every play.”

With Joshua Dobbs and a hot Tennessee team on deck, the Tigers likely need another good offensive performance and for the Missouri pass rush to continue harassing opposing quarterbacks, as it has been all season. If those things happen, things bode well for the Tigers moving forward, no matter what critics have to say.

“That's the way that we feel like we're going to earn our respect,” Ray said. “Even if we don't, we understand that we're all we got and that's how it has been in the past few years since we entered the SEC. So we're just going to continue to do what we've been doing.”

Planning for success: Tennessee

November, 18, 2014
Nov 18
It wasn't the way Butch Jones wanted to start his Monday.

Tennessee's second-year head coach had so much to be proud of. The last three weeks had gone so well with Josh Dobbs' emergence at quarterback, a thrilling overtime win over South Carolina and a 50-16 drubbing on rival Kentucky on Saturday. Inches away from bowl eligibility, everything was going great for the up-and-coming Vols.

The last thing Jones wanted to discuss was off-the-field trouble.

"Before we start," Jones told reporters as he began his weekly news conference in Knoxville, "I want to make sure everyone knows this, that I am aware of the alleged incident that occurred over this weekend."

[+] EnlargeTennessee coach Butch Jones
Streeter Lecka/Getty ImagesButch Jones has enough to worry about it in Missouri without the suspensions of two defensive players.
What he was talking about, of course, was the suspension of linebacker A.J. Johnson and defensive back Michael Williams amid two sexual assault allegations. Johnson, a senior, is the heart and soul of the Vols' defense. He's also their best player with a team-leading 101 tackles.

But like any coach would, Jones didn't want the attention on Johnson and Williams. He wanted it on the upcoming game, the next challenge that awaits in SEC East leader Missouri.

"We have a lot on the line," Jones said of handling the situation. "We're representing the state of Tennessee, Vol Nation, the city of Knoxville, our student body, our fan base, our boosters, our alumni. We have a lot of positive momentum and energy going right now, and we can't let that derail us."

Frankly, there's enough to worry about as it is. A win over Missouri is far from guaranteed.

Dobbs may lead the SEC the last three weeks with a Raw QBR of 84.9, but he hasn't seen a defense quite like the Tigers', Jones said.

"When you think about them, it first starts defensively," he said. "They are No. 1 in the SEC in sacks, No. 6 in the country overall. Number 16th in the country in scoring defense, and 22nd in the country in total defense. They have the ability to dominate a football game.

"Best tandem of defensive ends we have faced to date in Shane Ray, which some individuals think will be the first overall pick in the NFL draft, and Markus Golden as well."

The good news, at least when it comes to the possibility of Dobbs being chased all over the field, is that the sophomore QB is pretty fast. He has run for 289 yards and four touchdowns in his last three games, after all.

But it's not just Dobbs and the offense that has Jones worried. It's the other side of the ball, too.

Jones, who recruited Missouri QB Maty Mauk when he was head coach at Cincinnati, knows full well what the gunslinger is capable of.

"He can improvise, make plays with his legs," Jones said. "Very, very accurate. But the thing that comes to mind most when you think of Maty Mauk is his competitive greatness. He is a great competitor."

With Johnson and Williams' status up in the air, Tennessee's defense could be short-handed against Mauk and the Tigers.

If it turns into a shootout, things could get interesting.

It's obviously not what Jones would want, especially on the heels of such a solid performance limiting Kentucky to 10 points. But a win is a win, and that would mean a bowl game for the young Vols.

"We've come a long way," Jones said. "We still have a long ways to go, but we see progress. It's just continuing to becomes better and better. When you win, it gains confidence, but also it's learning how to win in a professional level, not an amateur level. All the distractions that come with winning -- how do you handle success, having that workmen-like mentality.

"We all know every game is a new season in and of itself, and that's not coach speak. You look at the programs that sustained winning, they have a high level of consistency each and every week, week in and week out. There are no highs, there are no lows, it's all flatlined, and that's what we talk to our players about all the time."

That even-keeled nature may be needed this week more than ever. With so much swirling around the program, both good and bad, keeping things in focus might be the difference between winning and losing.

SEC morning links

November, 17, 2014
Nov 17
Mississippi State, the No. 1 team in the nation, lost this weekend and yet nobody was talking about the Bulldogs on Sunday. That's what happens when another SEC team lets go of their head coach and one of the top players in the conference is lost for the season to injury.

1. Let's begin with the Todd Gurley news. Gurley, who returned for Georgia on Saturday after missing four games due to suspension, injured his left knee late in the game. On Sunday, it was announced that the star running back suffered a torn ACL and will miss the remainder of the season. Terrible news considering that he didn't have to come back. He could've foregone the rest of his junior season and turned his focus to the NFL, an idea suggested by Marc Edelman of Forbes Magazine -- which is sad now given the timing of the piece. Instead, Gurley took the risk for the benefit of his team. It's a big blow for Georgia, too, but not season-ending. The Bulldogs still have Nick Chubb in their backfield, and the freshman has shown he's more than capable of carrying the load. He'll be counted on the rest of the way.

2. The other big news of the day came out of Florida where the school announced head coach Will Muschamp will not return next season. Muschamp, who went 27-20 in his four seasons with the Gators will stay on and coach the team's last two games. Go ahead and strike up the coaching rumors. Who will be the next coach in Gainesville? ESPN's Travis Haney put out a list of eight possible candidates Insider that includes names such as Bob Stoops and Rich Rodriguez. At CBS Sports, Dennis Dodd has three current SEC coaches, including Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze, on his list of replacements. It's safe to say that nobody really knows what Florida athletic director Jeremy Foley is going to do. It's also safe to assume that Muschamp won't have trouble finding a job as a defensive coordinator if he so chooses.

3. And then there's Mississippi State. Do they still have a legitimate case at making the four-team playoff even after Saturday's loss to Alabama? Count quarterback Dak Prescott among those who believe they are still one of the best four teams in college football. Both Prescott and head coach Dan Mullen stated their case after Saturday's game. We'll find out just how far back the Bulldogs will fall Tuesday when the new rankings come out. Saturday was a much better day for cross-state rival Ole Miss. The Rebels didn't play, but losses by Mississippi State and Auburn opened the door for them to possibly win the West. The Rebels still need to win out and hope Auburn takes down Alabama in the regular-season finale, but there's a chance.

Around the SEC
Tweet of the day

SEC plays of the week: Week 12

November, 16, 2014
Nov 16
Another interesting week in the SEC and plenty of great plays league-wide. Let's take a look at our five favorites from Week 12:

Chubb train coming through
This was originally ruled a touchdown but later overturned (correctly) but that doesn’t make the play any less spectacular because Georgia freshman running back Nick Chubb's broken tackle is what makes it. Chubb powers through Auburn’s Jonathon Mincy to stay on his feet and if not for his right foot stepping on the out of bounds, he would have been in for six. As it is, it winds up as a nice 27-yard gain on a screen pass from Hutson Mason

video Heard’s timely block
Florida held a 17-10 lead with less than a minute left and that’s when South Carolina came up with a huge special-teams play. Receiver Carlton Heard sprinted up the middle and got his hands on the Kyle Christy punt, giving South Carolina possession in a prime area for the eventual game-tying score.

video Mizzou magic
Missouri had much success on third down in its win over Texas A&M but this was perhaps the best conversion of the night. On third-and-5, Maty Mauk found himself under pressure, backing up almost 20 yards behind the line of scrimmage before firing a strike to Darius White, who hauled in the pass one-handed for a 21-yard gain and a first down.

video Extra effort
Tennessee is enjoying offensive success since Joshua Dobbs took over as the quarterback. Saturday was a nice day as he threw for 297 yards and three touchdowns and one of them came courtesy of some extra effort by Von Pearson. On this play, Pearson is met by a Kentucky defender near the goal line but Pearson simply continues churning his legs and forcing his way into the end zone for six.

video Cooper’s catch
Amari Cooper is quite simply one of college football’s best receivers and he shows us weekly why he has that status. On Saturday in Alabama’s win over Mississippi State, he caught eight passes for 88 yards but none prettier than his 50-yard reception from Blake Sims in which Cooper high-pointed the ball on a leap in between two Bulldogs defenders. The catch set up a 1-yard Derrick Henry touchdown run that gave Alabama a 19-0 lead.
(No video, CBS game)

SEC helmet stickers: Week 12

November, 16, 2014
Nov 16
Week 12 in the SEC featured everything from last-minute comebacks to bitter rivalries to the fall of No. 1. Now that the dust has settled, it’s time to hand out the helmet stickers from the weekend that was. Here are the five we think are most deserving.

Nick Chubb, RB, Georgia: The return of Todd Gurley didn’t get in the way of Chubb doing what he’s been doing the past four weeks. Gurley rushed for 138 yards and a touchdown in his first game back from suspension, but he was overshadowed by the freshman Chubb, who finished with 144 yards rushing, 48 yards receiving and two touchdowns in Georgia’s 34-7 win over Auburn. The two form one of the top backfield duos in college football, though depending on the severity of Gurley’s knee injury, Chubb might be carrying the load on his own again next week.

Joshua Dobbs, QB, Tennessee: The South Carolina game was no fluke: Dobbs is the real deal, and he has the Volunteers rolling. On Saturday, Dobbs went 19 of 27 for 297 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions to lead Tennessee past Kentucky, 50-16. He also rushed for 48 yards and a score. The sophomore quarterback has now accounted for 1,079 total yards and 11 touchdowns in his last three games, and the Volunteers are one win away from becoming bowl eligible with Missouri and Vanderbilt left on the schedule.

Russell Hansbrough, RB, Missouri: Coming off maybe his worst career performance last week against Kentucky, Hansbrough rushed for a career-high 199 yards Saturday at Texas A&M. He had back-to-back long touchdown runs (45, 49) in the third quarter to first tie the game and then take the lead, a lead the Tigers never relinquished in their 34-27 win over the Aggies. As a team, Missouri rushed for 335 yards, but Hansbrough was the star. He now leads the Tigers with 591 rushing yards and seven touchdowns on the season.

Nick Perry, DB, Alabama: The entire Alabama defense deserves a helmet sticker for its performance against Dak Prescott and No. 1 Mississippi State, but if we’re giving it to one guy, it has to be Perry. The senior led the team with 12 tackles, and he also pulled down one of three Crimson Tide interceptions on the day. Though Jameon Lewis caught a touchdown for the Bulldogs, it was Perry who helped keep him in check for most of the game. At the end of the day, Alabama has its defense to thank for Saturday’s 25-20 win over the top-ranked Bulldogs.

Martrell Spaight, LB, Arkansas: Two defensive players on this list? That must be what happens when the temperature drops and teams start playing defense in the SEC. It’s also a credit to Spaight, who was the best player on the field Saturday in the Razorbacks’ 17-0 shutout win over LSU. The senior linebacker finished with 10 tackles, a sack, a forced fumble and a quarterback hurry to lead this much-improved Arkansas defense against the Tigers. Spaight now has a team-high 97 tackles on the season with two games left to play.

What we learned in the SEC: Week 12

November, 15, 2014
Nov 15
We’re getting close to resolution in the SEC’s division races after another wild weekend of conference play.

Here are five things we learned after the conclusion of Saturday’s games:

[+] EnlargeAmari Cooper
AP Photo/Butch DillWith their win over Mississippi State, Amari Cooper and Alabama are on track to play for the SEC title.
Georgia-Alabama?: We went through all of that to get to this? After beating No. 1 Mississippi State 25-20 on Saturday, Alabama is back in the driver’s seat in the SEC West, as many prognosticators expected before the season. Meanwhile, Georgia (9-2, 6-2 SEC) destroyed Auburn 34-7 in its final SEC game of the season, which put the pressure on Missouri to win out if it wants to win the SEC East. Otherwise, it’ll be Alabama-Georgia in the SEC championship game, which seemed the most likely outcome before the Mississippi schools and Missouri made unexpected title pushes. Mizzou (8-2, 5-1) still leads the way in the East, though, with games remaining at Tennessee and versus Arkansas. The Tigers can still spoil the Bulldogs’ title hopes, and Georgia tailback Todd Gurley's injury status will also have a bearing on the Bulldogs' prospects moving forward.

It tolls for thee, Muschamp: Maybe there was a way for Will Muschamp to save his job after Florida shocked Georgia a couple weeks ago. But the way the Gators blew a late lead and fell 23-20 in overtime against South Carolina on Saturday -- getting two kicks blocked in the last 3:30 -- probably removed any doubt. The Gators are now 5-4 and can become bowl eligible with a win against Eastern Kentucky next week, but this has to be the end for Muschamp. The Gators should have won this game but imploded at home in the closing minutes.

A breakthrough for Arkansas: It was a long time coming, but Bret Bielema finally got the first league win of his Arkansas tenure when the Razorbacks shut out LSU 17-0 on Saturday. Oddly enough, the win ended a 17-game SEC losing streak. The Hogs came close against several teams this season -- most notably Alabama and Mississippi State -- but they controlled the night against LSU. They even handed the Tigers their first shutout loss since they fell 21-0 to Alabama in the BCS title game to end the 2011 season. Clearly, it meant something to the Razorbacks’ fans, though. They rushed the field to celebrate the win.

Gus Bus hits a speed bump: Saturday’s loss was by far the worst for No. 9 Auburn since Gus Malzahn became head coach last season. The Tigers scored seven points in a loss to Georgia -- well below their previous scoring low (20 points in a win against Kansas State earlier this season) under Malzahn. Auburn came in averaging 506.9 yards and 38.7 points per game and mustered just 292 yards and seven points against a UGA defense that got dominated by lowly Florida two weeks ago. The Tigers also lost for the second straight week and fell out of the SEC West and playoff conversations.

Look out for the Vols: They lost their first four games in SEC play, but here come the Tennessee Volunteers (5-5, 2-4). With quarterback Josh Dobbs leading the charge, the Vols blasted Kentucky 50-16 on Saturday after beating South Carolina in overtime two weeks ago. Dobbs passed for 297 yards and three touchdowns on Saturday and ran for 48 yards and another score. They’ll host Missouri on Saturday with a chance to spoil the Tigers’ hopes of winning the SEC East.